West Wing Briefing

Turning the corner on the Gulf oil spill?

Cleanup and containment efforts continue at the Gulf of Mexico site of the oil spill following the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

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By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 21, 2010; 6:15 AM

Has the president turned the corner on the oil drilling crisis?

This week's schedule for President Obama suggests that the White House believes he has. After dominating the conversation in Washington all last week, the environmental crisis in the Gulf of Mexico does not appear front and center on the White House calendar.

Not that the West Wing can afford to take their eye off the ball, as chief of staff Rahm Emanuel acknowledged yesterday during a rare Sunday morning television appearance.

"What's important is, are we capping the well?," he told ABC's Jake Tapper on the network's "This Week" program. "Are we capturing the oil? Are we containing the clean-up? Are we filing the claims? Are we also cleaning up the mess? That's what's important."

But the administration is clearly expecting -- maybe hoping -- that the intense public attention on the spill fades a bit, starting with this week, giving them a chance to turn to other subjects.

The schedule put out by the White House on Friday includes no public events on the subject of the oil spill, though the president does intend to meet with lawmakers to discuss passage of energy legislation. The Gulf crisis is certain to come up then.

For the rest of the week, Obama and his aides hope they can focus on Afghanistan, health insurance reform, relations with Russia (whose president arrives for a visit on Thursday) and the global economy.

Obama departs Thursday for Canada for the G-20 gathering of the world's largest economies. Ahead of the meeting, the president warned the group last week that members must redouble their prior commitments or risk allowing the global economy to sink once again.

Tuesday's meeting with state health care commissioners is another chance for Obama to remind the public of the benefits he predicts will come from the massive overhaul of the nation's health-care system.

And Tuesday night's White House celebration of gay and lesbian pride month should be an upbeat event for Obama. That constituency -- which has been angry about the slow pace of some changes -- is likely to be happier at this year's version of the annual event, as Congress is on the verge of ending the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

Is it logical to expect that those subjects will replace the seemingly endless cable news chatter about the oil spill? Perhaps not. There is, after all, the never-ending video of the oil that continues to gush out of the bottom of the sea.

Still, there appeared to be a significant shift in the public relations last week, as anger was increasingly directed at BP and its CEO, Tony Hayward, instead of at the president and his administration.

And the debacle of Texas Rep. Joe Barton apologizing to BP -- and then apologizing for his apology -- forced Republicans off of their attack lines for several days. In fact, Emanuel suggested on Sunday that Barton's ill-considered comments would provide fodder for Democrats in the upcoming elections.

Emanuel suggested to Tapper that Barton's comments were indicative of a "governing philosophy. And I think what Joe Barton did is remind the American people, in case they've forgotten, this is how the Republicans would govern."

But if that's a message that West Wing officials hope to exploit before the fall elections, the public schedule suggests that it's not one they intend to offer themselves this week.


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